Friday Hodgepodge

Friday, September 30, 2022

Four Things I Learned About Hurricane Preps This Time

Having lived in Houston for seventeen years and evacuating twice, I figured dealing with hurricanes in Florida would be something of a cinch.


Below are four things I learned this time around, as I get ready to stand down from sheltering in place for the first time I found myself in a three-day cone.


1. In Florida, forecast uncertainty can make early evacuation a difficult decision, and population density can make late evacuation a less-viable option.

Florida's geography and population can easily make the decision about whether to evacuate less than straightforward. In Houston, although an evacuation might be at a snail's pace, going north was always an option and at least one of east vs. west was usually available.

Florida is shaped like a boomerang. For the panhandle, see Houston. On the peninsula, even being on the coast opposite an expected hit won't completely get you off the hook from high winds or even storm surges. On the peninsula, north or south might be an option if there is reasonable certainty in the forecast.

And if there isn't much certainty? Driving at a snail's pace (or not at all if there's no gas, a situation I encountered once, albeit armed with a full can) in an area that a hurricane might strike is a Bad Idea. (For the unitiated: Hurricane evacuations are giant traffic jams. Running out of gas is easy when what is normally a ninety miniute trip takes hours instead. And EVERYBODY is buying all the gas.)

Consider Ian: The forecast models were (a) confused by a strong tilt in the storm's vertical structure caused by wind shear in the early days of the storm and (b) gave results heavily dependent on initial storm position and the timing of steering currents. I am fortunate enough to have a place in the Panhandle I can go -- except in this case, when I would have had time to go there, it was about equally as likely as home to get hit.

And then, of course, by the time I knew we'd likely get the equivalent of a tropical storm/outside shot of hurricane conditions, I needed to weigh two not-great options against each other: stay at home (maybe in the dark) or hit the road and perhaps run out of gas. We weren't facing problems from the projected storm surge, so I opted for home.

On the positive side of the ledger, I feel more than vindicated by my insistence when we moved here that we not live on the water or closer to the beach. Those areas were ordered to evacuate and staying behind anyway could be a Bad Idea since most hurricane deaths are due to flooding/storm surge.

2. Stock a few days' worth of food that does not require heating up or cooking.

On the negative side of the ledger was ... carbon monoxide! In the process of adjusting from the mindset of strongly preferring to evacuate to having to seriously consider sheltering in place, I was bound to miss something, and that something was CO.

Oh, I can cook on the gas stove or the propane grill, I thought at first. Losing power for a few hours Wednesday evening was a good thing in that I had to think about how I would navigate what I figured would be at least a couple of days.

Glad to have plenty of canned food I thought I could just heat up, I realized that there was no ventilation: There is no power for the exhaust hood, and opening windows during high winds is a Bad Idea.

I had plenty of things that also don't need heating, but now realize I wasn't prioritizing that enough: You face days without power and being cooped up inside due to high winds. (And a portable generator isn't an option during that time either, for the same reason.)

Related fun fact: Cheez Whiz-type toppings in spray cans don't require refrigeration.

3. Go through all your food -- not just "hurricane supplies" -- ahead of the season.

A day or so ahead of the storm, I found some past-date canned food and peanut butter. Two sites helped me here: First, this USDA site helped me realize that the expired canned food in my pantry was probably fine, if I needed it. Second, Does It Go Bad? told me that I needed to toss all the peanut butter and buy new.

I like the fact that peanut butter now comes in squeeze tubes, meaning I have to clean one less thing when using it.

I was able to get away with a single trip to the store for only a few items, but lines were long and I would rather have not gone at all.

As-yet-to-be-tried idea: Jelly requires refrigeration, so I bought one bottle and some Fruit Roll-Ups as a substitute. The oracle Google tells me that people pair peanut butter and fruit roll-ups for all kinds of gross kid snacks, but it was silent on the merits of peanut butter and fruit roll-up sandwiches.

I am in no hurry to try one myself. Some things may best remain mysteries.

4. Golf carts -- common in Florida -- can provide emergency power.

We have a golf cart that we keep charged and use mainly to take the kids to school in the morning. I saw it in the garage when I was putting away lawn furniture ahead of the winds.

Boy! I wish I could use the batteries from that!

The bad news is that I had the idea too late to do us any good this time around.

The good news is that someone else has done this, using equipment that is relatively easy to get.

It would be great to be able to run a small fridge, a few lights, and some small appliances like this. I'll want to do the math for our golf cart to make sure this will really be useful, I can do this without trashing the battery, and it's cost-effective.

This seems like it could be at least a way to have power while the windows and doors have to be closed, because it will not generate carbon monoxide like a generator would.

-- CAV

There Is Such a Thing as Finished Software

Thursday, September 29, 2022

A software developer laments the experience of getting into hot water with Apple's App Store for the sin of not "updating" her finished, future-compatible app for three years:

I opened the message and was greeted with the "App Store Improvement Notice". I was essentially told that I hadn't updated my app in three years and now it counts as outdated. I needed to update the app within 90 days or it would get automatically taken down.

Never mind the fact that my app has a 5-star rating and was still being downloaded, with no complaints from any of my users. Also disregard the fact that I had other highly-rated apps up on the App Store, some of which had been updated much more recently than July 2019, clearly showing that I have not abandoned these apps entirely. If there had been an actual reviewer who checked my outdated app, they would have discovered that I architected the app from the beginning to dynamically scale the UI so it resizes to fit the latest iPhone devices
. All these could be signals that indicate to Apple that this is not a garbage-filled scam app that is lowering the quality of their App Store. [bold added]
This is a simple game for kids -- who will presumably outgrow it -- written in such a way as to account for whatever tweaking Apple might do to its hardware. And it's by an active developer who should get credit for knowing when a major change for future compatibility might actually be necessary.

This is, of course, Apple's call to make, and it might well be more economical for it to rely on algorithmic criteria to get the ball rolling with developers. But there is a tinge of cultural criticism I agree with (or wish to see) here, and that regards the common obsession with the new and shiny, such as that manifested basically every time a new phone (or operating system version) is released.

An article titled "How to Customize Your Lock Screen and 9 Other iOS 16 Tricks" is illustrative. Scattered among the various small improvements are such items as, "Change the Clock Font Back," "Make Notifications Into a List Again," "Get Rid of the Search Button." Call these First World problems or accuse me of having a Get off my lawn! moment if you will, but how come every damned time there's an incremental improvement to something, it has to break things that were fine to begin with?
Tux, the Linux Mascot. (Image by Larry Ewing, Simon Budig, and Garrett LeSage, via Wikimedia Commons, license.)

Part of the reason I am a huge fan of open source software is that I can set something up the way I like and still have it work unless there is a major substantive change or I switch to different software altogether. It is really annoying to waste time jumping through hoops just because I, say, liked a clock font and a total stranger decided to choose a new one for everyone. Am I wrong for not wanting to screw around with a clock font somebody else likes?

Yes. Most people don't care about these things, and software companies, like mechanics, make it easy for people who don't know much about a technology to use it.

But still: Why are so few people bothered when those they hire to make their lives easier do the opposite? And what would be so hard about making a reversion to previous defaults or settings easier on initial use? It drives me crazy that -- for a supposedly "intuitive" OS -- there is a ritual proliferation of how-to articles and pro-tip lists for such trivia with Every. Damned. Release.

(And although these articles are both about Apple products, I am not talking about just them. I quit Windows for Linux decades ago and plan to leave Android as soon as I find a viable, non-Apple alternative.)

Some software can indeed be finished. Some changes might well indeed be forced by other changes. And some changes are real improvements. It is ridiculous to assume that the first case is broken, the second deserves more than perfunctory attention, and that the third is anything other than the annoyance that it is.

Real innovation is worth learning about. Everything else is just a waste of time that should be minimized as much as possible.

-- CAV

P.S. Not only am I not picking on Apple, I'm not picking on just software, as witness a moronic gear shifting mechanism I once encountered in a rental car.

Zelensky Demand Underscores UN Illegitimacy

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky rightly -- and generously to a fault -- demands that Russia be removed as a member of the United Nations Security Council for reasons obvious to anyone but a Russian nationalist or Donald Trump.

Unfortunately, as the report goes on, it is basically impossible, under UN rules:

Zelensky has suggested removing Russia as a Security Council permanent member in the past, but the idea could face long odds. The most straightforward ways of removing Russia from the body would involve either amending the United Nations charter or expelling the country from the UN entirely, both of which would be subject to Russia's veto power. There is no method to overrule a veto. [links removed, bold added]
The bovine nonentity dispensing this information, either confessing an incredible degree of laziness or an inability to distinguish the metaphysical from the man-made simply labels this paragraph Contra -- as if that's all there is to it.

Just about all that's missing is a clueless and patronizing explanation in all-caps and single-syllable words about how this affront to reason and justice is a feature and not a bug.

QED: Russia is forever a veto-holding member of the eternal UN Security Council. There's nothing we can do about it, so we might as well sit back and enjoy it, I guess.

I vehemently disagree and recommend that anyone sentient enough to be bothered by this state of affairs visit a good piece at New Ideal on what the Russian emigrant Ayn Rand had to say on the matter of there being a UN that included Russia as a member at all. Within, among many other points, you will find the following quote:
Image modified from image by Joowwww, via Wikipedia, public domain.
Yes. I do not sanction the grotesque pretense of an organization allegedly devoted to world peace and human rights, which includes Soviet Russia, the worst aggressor and bloodiest butcher in history, as one of its members. The notion of protecting rights, with Soviet Russia among the protectors, is an insult to the concept of rights and to the intelligence of any man who is asked to endorse or sanction such an organization. I do not believe that an individual should cooperate with criminals, and, for all the same reasons, I do not believe that free countries should cooperate with dictatorships. (Playboy Interview: Ayn Rand. Playboy, March 1964.) [bold added]
I completely agree. The fact that Russia sits on the Security Council and has veto power is really just icing on the cake.

The United Nations has been a farce from Day One and every free country should immediately resign and repudiate this organization of gangsters, thugs, and freeloaders.

-- CAV

Censorship on Trial, but Fascism Goes Scot-Free

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Blog Housekeeping Note: Although we are fortunate not to face a direct hit from Hurricane Ian, we are likely over the next few days to experience tropical storm conditions and the power outages that go with them.

tl;dr: I may miss one or more days of blogging over the next week.


Writing at Tablet Magazine, litigator Jenin Younes of the New Civil Liberties Alliance discusses the case Missouri v. Biden, which alleges that social media acted at the government's behest to remove material deemed "misinformation" by the government during the worst of the Covid pandemic:
The government has no business making you host -- or kick out -- someone who wants to proselytize in your own living room. The same applies to social media fora. (Image by Jon'Nathon Stebbe, via Unsplash, license.)
...The plaintiffs allege that the Biden administration and a number of federal agencies coerced social media platforms into censoring them and others for criticizing the government's COVID policies. In doing so, the Biden administration and relevant agencies had turned any ostensible private action by the social media companies into state action, in violation of the First Amendment. As the Supreme Court has long recognized and Justice Thomas explained in a concurring opinion just last year, "[t]he government cannot accomplish through threats of adverse government action what the Constitution prohibits it from doing directly."

Federal district courts have recently dismissed similar cases on the grounds that the plaintiffs could not prove state action. According to those judges, public admissions by then-White House press secretary Jennifer Psaki that the Biden administration was ordering social media companies to censor certain posts, as well as statements from Psaki, President Biden, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, and DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas threatening them with regulatory or other legal action if they declined to do so, still did not suffice to establish that the plaintiffs were censored on social media due to government action. Put another way, the judges declined to take the government at its word. But the Missouri judge reached a different conclusion, determining there was enough evidence in the record to infer that the government was involved in social media censorship, granting the plaintiffs' request for discovery at the preliminary injunction stage. [links omitted, bold added]
Younes goes on to mention numerous documents obtained via Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests that would seem to provide such evidence.

I am on the one hand glad that the case is going forward: If the government was threatening social media platforms in order to regulate content, that is censorship, and it needs to stop.

On the other, as well-intentioned and necessary this suit seems to be, I am concerned about its framing within the confused modern discourse surrounding free speech (and lack thereof regarding property rights). To the point: Jawboning tech companies is not a "Privatized Censorship Regime:" It's a fascistic censorship regime.

Had, say, Twitter, decided on its own to deplatform Jay Battacharya, that would not have been censorship (which only a government can commit), but the company deciding not to give him a platform to broadcast his own views. (Censorship violates freedom of speech; a private party not giving a platform is merely exercising its property rights.) But had Twitter done so under the threat of adverse regulation or some other government action, then it would be censorship, in which the government fascistically dictates how the company can use its own property.

These are hardly nitpicking distinctions, as witness what happens when they are ignored: We get a rash of measures that similarly violate the property rights of companies in order to forbid them to perform actions that resemble what Democrat politicians might favor: bans in Florida alone of private vaccination requirements or failing to provide a free social media presence to politicians immediately come to mind.

-- CAV

Koonin Rebuts Ice Melt Hysteria

Monday, September 26, 2022

Steve Koonin, theoretical physicist and former Under Secretary for Science for the Department of Energy under President Obama writes at the Wall Street Journal to debunk a rash of sensationalist headlines about Antarctic glacial melt.

The yellow journalism takes legitimate studies of ill-understood processes as its point of departure, but very quickly departs from reality indeed -- as readers will see upon reading Koonin's careful and accessible explanation of the purpose of the studies, the methodology employed, and their results:

Image by 66 North, via Unsplash, license.
A second study tested the idea that freshwater from the melting of one glacier could be carried by currents along the shore to accelerate the discharge of nearby glaciers. Because global climate models are insufficiently detailed to describe the ocean near the coast, researchers constructed a special model to prove out their idea. If ocean currents can connect the discharges of distant glaciers, that would add to the complexity and variability of changes in the Antarctic ice sheet.

Under scenarios deemed likely by the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a connection between ocean currents and discharge would increase the overall discharge rate in one region of the continent by some 10% by the end of the century. But to emphasize the idea being tested, the modelers used human influences almost three times larger. Even though that fact is stated in the paper, reporters rarely catch such nuance, and the media goes with headlines such as "Antarctic Ice Melting Could Be 40 Percent Faster Than Thought" with the absurd statement that "a massive tsunami would swamp New York City and beyond, killing millions. London, Venice and Mumbai would also become aquariums." A more accurate headline would read: "Ocean currents connecting antarctic glaciers might accelerate their melting." [link omitted, bold added]
And, as if, the level of exaggeration and hand-wringing you can see here aren't ridiculous enough, Koonin makes a complete farce of it simply by filling in context that reporters on climate routinely and negligently fail to provide. For example: [W]hile the Antarctic losses seem stupendously large, the recent annual losses amount to 0.001% of the total ice and, if they continued at that rate, would raise sea level by only 3 inches over 100 years.

-- CAV

Friday Hodgepodge

Friday, September 23, 2022

Four Lists

1. Maarten Dalmijn heads his list of "11 Laws of Software Estimation for Complex Work" with the following admonition: "Wrong estimates aren't your fault, but they are definitely your problem."


After a brief story about a complex project, Dalmijn states each law and elaborates on it in turn.

In my ... estimation ... the seventh one is the most important: The biggest value in estimating isn't the estimate but checking if there is a common understanding.

Image by Drew Beamer, via Unsplash, license.
2. In the same field, but in a humorous vein, Carl Svensson offers a small collection of "Short Thoughts on Computers and Programming," which he tells us are not quite aphorisms. My favorite of the lot is the last: The future was better in the past.

3. It's a rabbit hole containing nuggets of good advice: Alison Green of Ask a Manager fame recently held "speed rounds" at her blog, in which she answered as many short questions as she could in two hours. She hit eighty last time, and has posted them in Q&A form.

No. 78, my favorite of the ones that caught my attention, contained advice I could have used at a younger age: I like telling people who are being weird that they are being weird. As in: "It's weird that you're so fixated on this."

4. In the realm of travel advice an ordinary person might not think of, we have "10 Hotel Safety Tips from a Former Intelligence Officer" at Security Magazine.

Some of these will seem cumbersome or borderline paranoid to people whose travel experience is all in the United States, but the author gives his reasoning, which makes them easier to remember and apply -- and might make you think again about some of your own practices. Even if you don't use this advice every time, it's good to know about it.

Hotel safe, I'm looking at you.

-- CAV

Shellenberger Rebuts MoJo RE: Sri Lanka

Thursday, September 22, 2022

I'm glad to see that John Stossel has written about Sri Lanka's centrally-planned "organic" farming debacle. This is first and foremost because the story has gotten much less attention than it deserves, even as some Western countries are getting ready to make the same mistake.

Many more people need to know about this.

On top of that, the fact that this story isn't all over the place doesn't mean that the left isn't busy crafting a narrative to cover its tracks, as Stossel notes and addresses in this exchange with Michael Shellenberger, author of Apocalypse Never:

Mother Jones has been spreading manure about manure since Sri Lanka's collapse. (Image by Malene Thyssen, via Wikimedia Commons, license.)
"Why can't we just make more organic manure?" I ask.

"It takes twice as much land to produce all the cows that you need to get the manure," he explains. "Synthetic fertilizers are a friend to saving nature because they reduce how much land we need."

Now the environmental purists make excuses for Sri Lanka.

Mother Jones said it's "ridiculous to single out [the fertilizer ban] as the 'underlying' cause, as Shellenberger did." Others say that Sri Lanka just needed time to adjust to organic farming.

"You might be able to become poorer over five or 10 years, rather than over six months," replies Shellenberger. "But the result will be the same."

I push back. "There were other causes of the problems: higher oil prices, COVID, other stuff happened."

"But those same problems affected other countries where the economies did not collapse," he replies. "What made the difference in Sri Lanka was its fertilizer ban."
Sri Lanka came up recently in a conversation, and, although I think I did an okay job giving some of this background, I found myself wishing there were a short, clear piece about it that I could refer others to. Now there is one, and as a bonus, its clear example of a respected left-wing outlet running interference for a failed policy will also be instructive for thinking, persuadable adults.

-- CAV